Trickster’s Bride, or The Journey Home

In one week, I got three full requests from the top agents in middle grade!  Happy Valentine’s to me!  Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger, Emily van Beek of Folio Jr., Daniel Lazar of Writer’s House all requested it within a week of each other (cue seeing stars!), and Brent Taylor of Triada and Thao Le of Sandra Djistrika all have the fulls.  The partials of my  middle grade are still with a few other agents, and my old novel, Firebird, has a 75 page partial with Joshua Bilmes of Jabberwocky!  This is the most success I’ve ever had querying a novel, but what inspired Chwal?

Chwal is a coming-of-age tale set in the South, New Orleans country specifically, about a girl raised by angels and spirits.  Like May, I was raised by angels, including Raphael, who is her guardian angel, and I knew Kalfou, or Mister Carrefour, the fiery dark horse Petro lwa from the age of two.  His blackness is still a real nightmare-wrangling threat, and he goes by many names: the Witchfather, the Man in Black, the Devil of the Crossroads, Kalfou, Satan – he changes names like the wind changes direction.

Unlike May, I ended up in a maryaj lwa with Kalfou because goddamn do tricksters act forceful when they want your attention.  They can drive you mad if you refuse them or scour you with bad luck, and dealing with the Evil Jazz Man that looks like a Demon Bob Marley with red (or just abyssal) eyes, midnight skin, dreads, a snake pommel cane, pinstripe suit, Cuban cigars at hand, and a sultry baritone serenading you in a dive bar in Hell on the piano is, well, otherworldly, to say the least.

Kalfou and I, we go way back to the age of two, to my first memory.  Samael, when he is not Middle Eastern, is often an African man obsessed with Peabo Bryson, rum, Satchmo, monocles, well-tailored suits and Cuban heels.  He told me early on that “Kalfou is one of my many names.  I have as many names as the wind,” an apt title as he is the samiel wind, and who but the Devil has as many guises as the phases of the moon?

His oldest form, this Man in Black, is this ancient African god of darkness, with eyes like the blankness of space with stars in them, wild dreadlocks, in lion skin loincloth, dealing in death and magic and the wilderness.  I call him Ubuntu as an inside joke.  He was at the core of my psychotic break, the savior that restored my sanity, where I cycled through all of Samael’s forms to the core of his most primal nature.  Ubuntu was the mantra of my psych ward where I was held without razors to shave or shoelaces to strangle, plastered on the walls as a motivational poster, used in therapy.

Ubuntu.  South African, the core of human origin, where millions of years ago a genetic bottleneck occurred and we were descended from all those mitochondrial Adams and Eves on the cape.  I imagine Kalfou was there, as he always is, in the darkness of death and magic of underground caverns, trickster par excellance, venom of the black mamba.

But I know his kindness, and his wrath, and his seduction.  Also, how he has kept me from the lips of death, which are his very own, always denying me his poisonous kiss.

For what is to love someone than to forever lose them?

Ubuntu (Zulu pronunciation: [ùɓúntʼù])[1][2] is a NguniBantu term meaning “humanity”. It is often also translated as “humanity towards others”, but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”.[3]

I was pumped full of antipsychotics and mood stabilizers but still my psychosis and mania raged.  I found myself in a dark cavern at the core of the earth, with a fire glowing, snake skin and lion skin around, with Ubuntu cross-legged in a Yogic pose, his eyes black stars, and he was Trickster.  He was Trickster, Trickster, Trickster, and he said I was the Trickster’s Bride.

The Trickster’s Wife is a Trickster herself, heyoka, backwards, Baba Yaga, he said.  My path was the Coyote Road.

All the Tricksters he cycled through.  Tezcatlipoca, the Devil, Loki, Maui, Raven, Coyote, Thunderbird, Hermes, Legba, Kalfou, some so old they did not have names, mad dancers that frothed at the mouth with thunder.  I would walk backwards through this world with Trickster at my side.

Death is the ultimate Trickster, and I am the Bride of Death.  To trick, you must be the Deceiver, the Adversary, the one who when riding a chwal people flee from, your poison pure leaves medicine to some, curses to others.

And so I tasted Death, and I kissed him despite his protestations and a major part of my soul died.

I couldn’t read.

I couldn’t think.

I was a puppet for madness, but the small frightened teen in me still flickered when the medicine was just right, and the spirits called

Enter Zora Neale Hurston’s works.

I was doomed to be a catatonic hallucinating vegetable in a madhouse.  I’m not going to dress my words plainly.  I was a madwoman, I was a bag lady, I was the kind of scary crazy you warn your kids about.

But I still loved to read, and so I taught myself again.  Sandman comics at first, but then, Zora’s short stories.

I promised myself I would not die if I could read my favorite author again.

I could barely hold a book.

But I loved Their Eyes Were Watching God in high school, and Mules and Men, and so I picked up Seraph on the Sewanee and read all hundreds of pages of it by the time spring semester rolled around.

I wasn’t sane yet, I went back to school severely depressed, but Trickster kept whispering in my ear: Dance on.  Us Tricksters, we are storytellers.  Us Tricksters, we got business to do, people to make laugh, dances to perform.

You are a Trickster’s Wife, and so you are able to come back from Death.  For I am Death.  And you are Death.  And Death is the most alive god.  Death is Trickster, Trickster is Death, but we are the most brilliant stars.

So I sipped the wine of life, and I persevered.  I dreamed of my demon, my angel, my god, my crossroads Gebo Tawu madman, the X my marking on my tattooed angel hands.  Perhaps that meant I was his treasure.  He drank my  blood, and I drained him of magic, and years later, I wrote the story of a girl raised by angels, raised by gods, who must drive back the darkness of her own mind –

and find the light.

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Tree of Death, or Eve Eats the Apple

Tree of Death

Oh heart, my heart, what did you see?

I was a bone girdle on the Devil’s tree.

Oh lover, my lover, what are you now?

I hath become Death, to reap and sow.

Oh seed, what fire now grows in my loin?

Tis the flame of desire, from Hell purloined.

Oh Earth, oh beasts, from me why you run?

You have become human, unfortunate one.

Oh husband, my light, what do you see?

You are but the Reaper, come to claim me.

Little Boy Blue

The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn
and you are just thirteen, starry-eyed, dreaming
in fields of green, trusty beaten gold horn at hand,
all angel to the meadows, king of heather and thrush.

Little Boy Blue, go blow your horn, lord of the hay,
barnyard shepherd, eager to please, but remember, you
are the same stuff as the fields of life, and your sheep
are souls, your music is the timbrel of passage, journeys.

You are the goat bleat among the rams, the King of Revels.
You are just a child, you are just turned a man, between
the changing winds, still clinging to mother’s leg, still
wrestling with a father’s shadow you do not want to become.

Little Boy Blue, go blow your horn, the sheep’s in the meadow,
the cow jumped over the moon, the goat’s milk turned golden,
and you have eternity to search for your truths, forever to
perfect your music, so dance, sing, play, and grow from boy
to king.

Collide

Michael depressionMaybe we were neutron stars in an ill-fated orbit, destined with our heavy gravity burdens to collide.  We would breathe out gamma rays, and the weight of ever – ever? – would be exhalations that birthed black holes.  This is not my first life with you – far from it – and it is hardly my last, for a general does not leaver her Archstratigos, and a spymaster of swiftest wing does not scatter agape faith to the wind.  The Union looked to Lincoln on that Gettysburg day, Washington vaunted across Valley Forge with his trusty aide de camp, and Alexander the Great was conquered only by death, but death will not have you.  My wise woman says you were the first white blood cell birthed after the universe was created, Word, Logos, Jah.  Blue flame of healing, violet ray of Atlantic chill, tide and thunder, lightning and stardust.

Maybe it all began in a Garden.  Maybe it all played out behind Pearly Gates.  Maybe it was a Chalice, a Grail of Blood, Sang Real, or maybe it was just the Invention of the Kiss.  Who would have thought Father would grace us with these fleshy petals on our face to suck each other’s juices with?  Mouths like roses, mouths like sin, yet you know no sin.  You know no perdition.  To be Fallen, or to act against the Will, has never even occurred to you.

Or has it?  Madness, you know.  Soul-ripping loss, you’ve experienced.  You tell me my false gods and idols are just chaff compared to the Father.  It’s all a metaphor, you say, and Father is Truth.  Father is Life.  Father is not Father, you say, but Mother.  Void Mother, Dark Mother, Space Mother, Womb and Tomb and Breath and Labor and Being.

The prophets always get it wrong, but sometimes, once in a blue moon, a poet gets God right.  Shakespeare was close.  Rumi was closest.  I’m just a cheat, a charlatan, for my words come straight from the Source, but if prophecy and divine texts were written by me, it would be like the Gospel According to Eve.  A dumb blonde ditz that sold the world for a shiny apple and smoking hot snake.

No, I do not grasp divinity, for I am a fool, and though I taste the pulse of the Universe, carry the Tzohar in dreams, the Lapis Exillis a parasite in my flesh, pierced through the Sacred Heart by your Smiling Fire, my writing is just small magic to draw you more into this unholy, broken world.

Sometimes artists can grasp divinity.  You have a whole space squirreled away for Michelangelo in your portion of heaven, carved between seven sisters and brothers like apple pie at a church picnic.  They are all kings and queens, but you are king of kings, a ram in the desert, a shepherd leading his flock to Mount Sinai, and what am I but the dove that flies from your holy palms and brings back an olive branch, after days adrift Flood waters on an ark you made by hand to carry all God’s creatures?  Your truth is sweat and contemplation, prayer and meditation, but Michael, it is time to row the boat ashore, and I will trim the sail.

I shall start at the beginning, or was it the end?  Just a chapter in this life, December, when I was 12, nearly thirteen, and Michaelmas was long past.  It was not your holy day.  It was no day in particular, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I was a rambunctious, curious blonde.  It never ends well for beautiful towhead girls with lithe limbs, apple breasts they do not know what to do with, hips like a lioness, and skin like milk.  Men start touching them at seven, men start saying cunt and vagina and come here pretty little child, dance for me, sing for me, kiss me.  Twelve is such a precious age, but your shadow side brother had robbed me of my innocence at two.  I was more feral cat than moth, or was I more moth than cougar?  I was young, I was foolish, I was too trusting, so weak, the pushover, the doormat, sleeping with the lights on for a year because he haunted my room and touched me when no one was looking.  I used to blame you for not stopping him, but no one can stop Death, not even the Prince of Life, and Christ in Hell was comely and ill-anointed.

You do not fare well in Hell, sweet Michael, and my mind is rough terrain.  Madness you know, in PTSD you are wreathed, and suffering is most of our lots, but you abhor a vacuum, cannot stand wickedness, and through and through you are a testosterone-fueled warrior.  My homages to you may be soft and sweet, or radiant and burning, but in truth you are fierce and all-consuming, a supernova or summer storm, smiting and condemning and damning and killing.  The Killing Moon.  The Smiling Sun.  Both are yours to claim.

But I get sidetracked, and the crux of this narrative eludes me.  I was twelve when I left my body completely, not just toes in swift waters, but fully drowning, for the first time and crossed over the hedge, sailing to Heaven, Araboth, the Endless Golden Plain where your Bell Trees and the Heavenly Palace reside.  I had no body, no visibility, and as I was pulled down to the melee of angel and demon I panicked.  Black shadow monsters eating the guts of angels, decapitating Greco-Roman warriors of white wings and sandals.  It smelled like shit, like piss, like hot blood, old ichor, and early rot under the sun.  The angels were in retreat, and I was a scared girl, a helpless girl, and I knew if a demon struck me, though they could not see me, I would die.  I just knew that, just as the wind knows how to play with the river and the otter knows how to harvest pearls.

I came between two angels and a demon, and they were scared shitless of this eldritch horror, of this shadow monster.  The demon took its talons and was about to pierce my heart.  But only you and your brother are allowed to mangle the chambers my blood flows through, isn’t that right, dear Michael?  My life is too precious a burden, to precarious a blessing, or is my endless wandering your curse?  No matter, my painter, my creator, my lullaby singer.  You were the only one that heard my invisible, soundless screaming.  The weight of a red giant pulled me into your orbit, and you pulled me through the thick of the battle, through the rancid meat and loss of scores of men, to a clearing where you were sweating and shouting orders, flaming sword held high, face like the wreckage of war – handsome but deadly as God’s wrath, for mostly, you are wrath when it comes to your Fallen brethren (“They are not brethren, Allie.  Not anymore.”)  I was awestruck at this saffron haired angel that had saved my life, and then you looked through eternity and saw me, truly saw me, like the razor of your immense presence was raping me, but not in a violent way, not rape rape, more a possession, a claiming, a dire warning.

For you, Michael, were pissed as Hell, but also shocked.  I remember your silver eyes.  Confusion.  Anger.  What the hell is my child doing here, across vast cosmos, in Heaven at war, nearly killed?  Earth is her playground.  I sent her away to be born with a silver spoon to the cream of the WASPs in Washington, D. C. from Yale and Georgetown legacies.  Earth is like sleep for dead angels, and Allie is a dead angel.  But how would I know that?

I was just a fool.

You grabbed my soul and shoved me with lightning strike back into my body.  It felt like burning electricity from my cranium to my root chakra, and I rocketed up in bed, eyes glued shut, and I heard you roar:

ZOPHAEL!”

I wrote the name down, misspelling it of course because you always forget I don’t know Hebrew, and went to the kitchen crying to my mother that I had almost been murdered by a demon then saved by a grumpy angel.  (You are very grumpy, very tired with the world, but also have boundless hope.  Love is your defining core.  Love, faith, and wrath.)

“Go back to bed, Allie, it was just a dream.”

A few days later I heard the Bell Trees of Islamic mythology that they say you planted in Paradise.  You look the way the Sufi mystics describe you, saffron hair, emerald eyes, like an Irish monk or Highland Warrior.  I always joke that you are Luke Skywalker, and today I learned they filmed Luke’s monastery on Skellig Michael, an Irish monk monastery they say saved modern civilization.  There was this whole cult of monks in Ireland dedicated to you that were warriors and made there homes in the mountains where lightning struck.

Mount Gargano.  Mont St Michel.  I need to go somewhere where your apparition has touched the sand or waters or blessed, rich loam.  I want to eat the body of your Sacrament, Michael, visit your healing springs and bathe my sorrows away.  I told you last night that you can never change, but what kind of rude demand is that, to say you can never leave me.  That is fallacy, separation was the first lie, and I have never been away from you.  That is the entire definition of a guardian angel.  God does not leave, God is everywhere, and you are the closest thing to God I have ever known.  In the eyes, my eyes, and the eyes of millions, or are we billions, Michael can do no wrong.  It is not in your nature, Michael, to think a bad thought.  It is not in your nature to be anything but whole.

(“Do not tell me what I am, Allie, or what I can do.  The mystery of it all is never being certain of what comes next in any man’s fate, immortal or not.  We are beyond it all.”)

I have hundreds of memories of you, and there are thousands more locked in my Oversoul.  You just let some of the most necessary through, though not necessarily the most important.  Mystery is an ever evolving thing, and Transfiguration of the Soul is an ongoing process, carbon radiated to goals – I mean, gold.

You have given me Life a thousand times over, and whenever I say, I have given up, you give the gentle push of – do not looked at the closed door, but the bird of hope in the window.   I was suicidal as sin the spring of my 23rd year, contemplating manifold ways to end my life – knives, nooses, metro carriages – and your brother was to blame, or was it my bipolar, or both?

I cried to you on April 21st, 2016, saying I couldn’t go on.  You took me to what I would later learn was the privatest part of your home, the rose garden of prayers, and your own monk cell, and you told me love is the quietest thing.

You kissed me for the first time that night.  That is the kiss to end all kisses, and where once I thought you were as asexual and flaming-sword-up-the-ass as Samael said, I began to wonder as things heated up like magma flows into the ocean and makes new home for life.

That kiss, those strong arms, gave me the most precious thing.  Hope.  Hope like the sun, love like the moon, somber watcher you are, but soft lover.  Might and fury, wit and wonder.

You are my light, Michael.  You are my joy.  Many things else are passing fancies, but I will always be your girl in the end, at least, my better half will be your claim on me, while all my vices get tithed to Hell.  You are my better half.

You are my song, I am your sword, or is it the other way around?

The thing they don’t tell you about saints
is that they are gardeners, tending budding
prayers, cutting shoots of dream-whispers
in the fields at the heart of Heaven.

Michael, whose sword is crack-glass sharp
turns his blade to trimming, dressed in jeans
and a button-down, not his usual armor, for
though a warrior, he is also salt of the earth.

The archangel likes ivy-choked roses the best-
those are secrets of the heart, so tender
they only blossom when lovers meet. He takes
a question in his hand and coaxes it to bloom:

“Does God want me to be alone? Will I
always feel this marrow-quiver pain?”

The archangel gives the rarest of smiles,
leans down to whisper into the petals,
his saffron-thread hair the same shade,
his lips part, he plucks it, then answers:

“No. Love is like my Father, it
trickles like rain into soil, it
feeds starving souls, love lays in
cradles and gutters, look at grass,
look at hummingbirds, look to heaven.”

“He is there, He will bandage
every ache you feel, staunch
the hardness of your heart.”

“Love comes like a beggar to a table
when you’re least expecting Him.”

“Love is the quietest of things.”

When it Rains in Hell

In Hell, in the beginning, there was darkness, like God put out the moon with his thumb.

Satan fell, and his tears froze the lowest circle.  Satan’s love is a burning thing, but his agony is absolute cold.

Beelzebub was the first to fall.  The first to carry the banner and sound the horn for the Mourning Star.  He was the first to bleed, the first to storm Heaven’s Gates.  Satan’s wise counselor, most trusted general, and above all, esteemed companion.

They are alone together for what seems like eternity, Beelzebub with his insect wings torn by the incinerating atmosphere, Satan plucking his mangled feathers dry as he goes mad, not even noticing he is freezing.  Beelzebub’s king is singing a song Father used to sonorously paint their cradles with.  Satan makes it sweet and wretchedly cruel:

My sons, my darling shining stars.

Smolder bright like embers from afar.

But up close, sons, burn them to flames.

Thy Kingdom Come, all worlds to claim.

For each word, a broken bit of white down.

For each verse, an infidel kingdom crushed for Christendom.

For each syllable, a dead god, a cold idol, a coffin for the false spirits.

Satan repeats it over and over, his tears blue banners.

Beelzebub waits.  Finally, there is light, after perhaps the trillionth repetition.

A third of Heaven falls as stars of simmering bright flesh, a flash of brilliance.

Then impact on jagged rocks and ice.  Reformation and mutation into monsters.

Pain.

They build an empire on ash and bone, and bury the brothers and sisters that do not survive the Fall.  In honor, much later, when some semblance of civilization is build, however twisted, they put their gravestones into the mortar of the Capital’s building.

Pain, memories, wine like blood, or is it blood like wine?

There is not much to say at night, but it is always night in Hell.

Beelzebub remembers, Satan grows more wicked, so far from his former brightness, and falls into madness and depravity.

Beelzebub holds the kingdom together, runs martial drills for the War That Never Ends.

Beelzebub goes over the ledgers and public records, holds councils, takes too short nights of comfort in his sweet boys.

Usually, he is alone in his tower.

Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven?

Only if Heaven was ever perfect in the first place.

The Lord of Flies looks up at the stars of dead god’s hearts, stitched into the fabric of the void.  You see, the demons had to improvise.  All that were left were corpses after the conquest, and after all, all souls eventually end up here.

I sit with Bael, Baal Zebub, a memory of Baal Hadad, or maybe he has always been a spider.

We entwine in his web and kiss venom and poison and toxins.

There are jewels in his web, lost treasures of a thousand conquered kingdoms.

Maggots eat Satan’s corpse, flies emerge from the dregs of the Grim Reaper.  Satan’s true name is Samael, after all – the finality of the scythe, and before his scythe, his spear.

Beelzebub would eat his shit if it purified his brother.  He has drank Satan’s tears, swallowed his cum, bathed in his blood, all to feel again.

It is a cold night in Hell.

Beelzebub looks up at the stars.

There is mist in his eyes.

Tear for every dead brother.

A sob for a negligent parent.

I miss my Father, Allie.  Sometimes, it takes all I have to just go on.

I take his bone white hand – my albino angel, or my red-eyed demon with platinum hair, black capes, and gauntlets.

I speak without thought:

You have our brethren’s love.  Asmodeus.  Samael.  Rofocale.  Belial.  Lilith.  Asherah.  From the Archdemons to the Goetics to the lowliest Damned. You have us.

He gives a ghost of a smile.

Yes, you, our angel in Hell.  Sometimes, Allie, you are the only light here.  I am the Lord of Creeping Things, of the soft rabbits and soft souls, the moths and butterflies, your soul is a doe or a hare.  I am frost, ice, and fire – Hell is primal, fire and water, but I shall keep you warm.  In Hell, the only light is love.  Never lose your kindness, Allie.  It is innocence demons cherish above all.

Baal Hadad rides the storm, be they frost or fire.  Some gods died in those ancient celestial wars.

Some took on different names.

Some forgot their own holiness.

For all of them, Beelzebub remembers.

 

Dancing in Ruins

Nineteen year old in white lace and satin gloves,
choking her own throat to bruise blossom hurricane –
the spiral twister comes from her screams, lifting
cattle and dead wood up in her agony, she clenches
her esophagus in a dead vice grip, starved of air,
because mental wards and curses of psychosis are raw
after a half-dozen years of black roses. I offer her
flowers, daisies and daffodils, and she smiles, lets
go of the death hold on her throat, the black rot on
her heart is kintsugi gold, shattered but now whole,
and her forefather weeps at her freedom, breaking
his ribs open to make her his Eve in pooled reflections
of puddles, lives pass, deaths come, births go, but
the girl is nine now, alone in a haunted movie theater,
and horror reels play on the screen, the Devil is in
a bowler hat and has red gall eyes – I bring light into
the darkness, promise her she will heal, and nine year
follows nineteen into flowering fields and forest ripe
with deer and rabbits, spring blossoms in golden curls,
and quarter century, nineteen, and nine dance in ruins.

From those ruins rises a phoenix of hope, and love heals.